Metrics 101: NBA's 10 Best Pick-and-Roll Combos

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 28, 2017

Metrics 101: NBA's 10 Best Pick-and-Roll Combos

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    When defenders see these pick-and-roll combinations coming at them, they're in trouble. 

    They aren't necessarily the pairings that have experienced the most success while working alongside one another, but they're the premier roll men and ball-handlers on their respective teams. By pairing together the man doing the most damage crashing toward the hoop and the one who can torment foes when he curls around a screen with possession of the rock, these duos are creating impossible scenarios. 

    Do defenses sag back and cut off alley-oop feeds? Do they hedge out to prevent penetration from the ball-handler?

    Do they just give up? 

    Using the same methodology employed to determine the NBA's deadliest isolation scorers, we're finding each and every team's leaders in value added as ball-handlers and roll men in pick-and-roll play. Add their scores together, and you have the duo's overall mark, which is then used to find the 10 leading tandems. 

    Each organization only gets one spot, and players must have a minimum of 10 possessions to qualify for either role. 

    Those are the rules. The boring part is out of the way. Now, onto the pairings you don't want to see on the upcoming schedule. 

10. Utah Jazz: Rodney Hood and Rudy Gobert (27.82 Value Added)

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Ball-Handler Points per Possession: 0.95

    Ball-Handler Possessions: 100

    Ball-Handler Value Added: 13.53 (No. 15)

    Roll Man Points per Possession: 1.47

    Roll Man Possessions: 36

    Roll Man Value Added: 14.29 (No. 2)

    Rodney Hood has played phenomenal offensive basketball during the first quarter of 2017-18, overcoming a fairly slow start with a scorching set of performances in late November. He's always under control, playing his own game when he comes off a screen and setting the tempo for the Utah Jazz. The Duke product is capable of attacking the hoop and knocking down a floater or pull-up jumper, but he can also curl around a screen and fire immediately from beyond the arc. 

    Still, he's not the standout in this pairing. 

    Rudy Gobert may only be second in value added as a roll man, but that's largely because the bone bruise in his right knee—suffered in an unfortunate loose-ball collision with Dion Waiters—has limited him to just 12 appearances. Among all players qualified for these rankings, only five have been more efficient rolling to the hoop on a per-possession basis, and each member of that quintet (Nemanja Bjelica, Lucas Nogueira, Paul George, Alex Len and Aaron Gordon) has been far less involved in this type of play

    Had Gobert avoided injury and continued performing at this level, he'd help the Jazz rocket up these rankings. Prorate his numbers over 12 games to Utah's full slate of 20 contests, and he'd be at 23.82 value added, pushing him into the top spot as an individual. 

    And if you combine that new number with Hood's performance, Utah would surpass the next six squads in this combination countdown. Injuries suck. 

           

    Honorable Mentions

    • Darren Collison and Myles Turner (24.37)
    • Kyrie Irving and Aron Baynes (24.01)
    • Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle (22.85)
    • LeBron James and Jeff Green (22.33)
    • T.J. Warren and Alex Len (21.5)

9. Memphis Grizzlies: Tyreke Evans and Marc Gasol (28.68)

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Ball-Handler Points per Possession: 1.00

    Ball-Handler Possessions: 124

    Ball-Handler Value Added: 22.97 (No. 7)

    Roll Man Points per Possession: 1.13

    Roll Man Possessions: 97

    Roll Man Value Added: 5.71 (No. 21)

    Well, this is unexpected. 

    Marc Gasol's enduring presence as the Memphis Grizzlies' leading roll man shouldn't be surprising, even if he's struggling to find peak form this year. The big man is such a cerebral offensive player that he can find the nooks and crannies in a defense after setting a screen to free one of his guards, and he has the requisite touch to finish plays in traffic

    But Tyreke Evans as the leading pick-and-roll ball-handler on Beale Street? In conjunction with serving as one of the NBA's most effective isolation threats? Now that might be a bit more shocking, given the course Evans' career has taken over the last few years. 

    A healthy version of the shooting guard has become a wrecking ball when attacking the basket, and his improved shooting stroke has only opened up more opportunities. Opponents no longer know whether to duck under screens or chase him over the top, since he's making them pay with rise-and-fire jumpers like never before

    Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons have both been effective initiating pick-and-rolls, but neither has been as impactful per possession or as frequently involved as this breakout 2-guard. 

8. Los Angeles Clippers: Lou Williams and Blake Griffin (29.0)

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Ball-Handler Points per Possession0.95

    Ball-Handler Possessions: 149

    Ball-Handler Value Added: 19.6 (No. 10)

    Roll Man Points per Possession1.27

    Roll Man Possessions: 48

    Roll Man Value Added: 9.39 (No. 7)

    Apparently, losing Chris Paul does make a difference. 

    Not only do the Los Angeles Clippers no longer have one of the NBA's elite point guards running the pick-and-roll show (Paul scored 0.96 points per possession last year on 7.6 possessions per game), but they also don't have an initiator who can feed the ball to the bigs for one easy look after another. Perhaps the most notable decline has come from DeAndre Jordan, who hasn't been able to get involved enough to stave off Blake Griffin as the team's most effective roll man. 

    Jordan has still been fantastic, but his slightly more efficient scoring (1.31 points per possession) hasn't overcome Griffin's added involvement. The latter can create more for himself after receiving a pocket pass en route to the rim, while the former is still utterly reliant on setup passes leading to easy flushes. 

    This year, Jordan is using 1.4 possessions per game as a roll man, which accounts for 15.6 percent of his offense. Last year, those numbers stood at 2.1 and 19.5, respectively. That's a big difference, and it shines a harsh spotlight on the Clippers' lack of consistent distributors, especially now that both Milos Teodosic and Patrick Beverley are on the shelf. 

    Lou Williams has still been an excellent scorer, trailing only nine players throughout the league in value added as a PnR handler. But his inability to create for others keeps Lob City from rising any higher up the ranks. 

7. Detroit Pistons: Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris (29.44)

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Ball-Handler Points per Possession: 1.00

    Ball-Handler Possessions: 145

    Ball-Handler Value Added: 26.86 (No. 5)

    Roll Man Points per Possession: 1.21

    Roll Man Possessions: 19

    Roll Man Value Added: 2.57 (No. 45) 

    The Detroit Pistons aren't going with the grain in 2017-18. Though the pick-and-roll remains the pet set of so many different organizations (with different levels of nuance that allow for kick-out three-pointers and whatnot), this squad has fed the ball to roll men on only 4.4 percent of its possessions—higher than just the Golden State Warriors' 3.7 percent. 

    Part of this is by design, since head coach Stan Van Gundy frequently has his troops embark upon offensive sets through other methods, including playing through Andre Drummond from the top of the key or high post more often than ever before.

    Part of it stems from a heavier reliance on scoring from the ball-handlers. But the latter explanation doesn't have as large of an impact, since Detroit finishes just 13.7 percent of its offensive possessions with a pick-and-roll handler, which leaves it ahead of only the Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers, Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans. 

    Fortunately for the Motor City, it's been quite successful when it does choose to venture into this setting.

    Drummond, who has broken out in so many other ways this year, has been a lone exception, scoring just 0.92 points per possessions when rolling to the hoop (25th percentile). He and Tobias Harris are the only men with at least 10 such possessions, which makes his smaller counterpart the easy choice alongside Reggie Jackson. 

    And picking Jackson as the handler is easier still. 

    Ish Smith has been slightly below average in that role, while Harris, Avery Bradley, Langston Galloway and Jackson have all been distinctly positive. But the starting floor general's return to health and form has allowed him to become one of the 10 most frequent attackers as a pick-and-roll handler, and he's finding quite a bit of success while probing opposing defenses with his veritable arsenal of floaters, finishes through contact and pull-up jumpers

6. Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. (32.25)

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    G Fiume/Getty Images

    Ball-Handler Points per Possession: 1.06

    Ball-Handler Possessions: 115

    Ball-Handler Value Added: 28.31 (No. 4) 

    Roll Man Points per Possession: 1.36

    Roll Man Possessions: 14

    Roll Man Value Added: 3.95 (No. 33)

    Were you expecting John Wall and Marcin Gortat? 

    The Washington Wizards point guard didn't look like himself before succumbing to inflammation in his knee that required platelet-rich plasma and viscosupplementation injections. He wasn't quite as explosive driving to the basket, and the diminished athletic ability prevented him from scoring more than 0.79 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (54th percentile). 

    Bradley Beal has been just as involved as the offensive initiator in the nation's capital, and he's found far more success. Not only is he peppering the opposition with pull-up triples if they make the mistake of ducking under a screen or get caught by a big body, but he's finishing around the basket at the highest rate of his career. 

    The 2-guard is throwing up unquestionably elite numbers, and it's his rolling counterparts who are holding the Wizards back from a top-five finish. Even though Gortat served as a distinct positive each of the last two years (65th percentile in 2016-17 and 86th percentile one season prior), he's continued his age-correlated decline by scoring just 0.72 points per possession. Throughout the entire NBA, no player has added less value in the relevant set. 

    That leaves non-traditional bigs contending for the spot, and Otto Porter Jr.'s efficiency in smaller doses takes the proverbial cake. He's doing everything right, shooting 66.7 percent on his rolls, drawing fouls and hitting the occasional pick-and-pop jumper to keep defenses on their toes. 

    Washington head coach Scott Brooks tends to feature stale sets in late-game scenarios, handing the ball to his leading scorers and asking them to improvise. Perhaps he could inject a little more life into his troops by featuring Porter as the primary screener a bit more frequently. 

5. Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard and Ed Davis (36.81)

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Ball-Handler Points per Possession: 1.00

    Ball-Handler Possessions: 238

    Ball-Handler Value Added: 43.09 (No. 2)

    Roll Man Points per Possession: 0.71

    Roll Man Possessions: 17

    Roll Man Value Added: minus-6.28 (No. 90)  

    Poor Damian Lillard

    The Portland Trail Blazers point guard is in the midst of a career season, serving as a dynamic force in the pick-and-roll game who can rarely be contained. He's engaged in 238 such possessions—more than anyone else in the NBA—and has shot 43.8 percent from the field on his relevant attempts. But that number is far more impressive than it sounds. 

    Routinely stopping and popping after brushing shoulders with his screening big, Lillard has taken enough threes out of pick-and-rolls that his effective field-goal percentage is a vastly superior 50 percent. He's also drawing fouls on 11.8 percent of these possessions, which helps push him to an even point per play. Sitting in the 83rd percentile isn't too shabby for the league leader in frequency. 

    Unfortunately, the tremendous baseline established by this floor general is ruined by the shoddy play of the rollers. Take a gander at the value added by the two men with at least 10 rolling possessions:

    1. Ed Davis: 0.71 points per possession on 17 possessions yields minus-6.28 value added
    2. Jusuf Nurkic: 0.95 points per possession on 94 possessions yields minus-12.06 value added

    The Blazers are deadly in their flow offense, which does utilize plenty of screens. But rarely have the bigs found success while crashing to the hoop. 

4. Houston Rockets: Eric Gordon and Clint Capela (37.34)

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Ball-Handler Points per Possession: 0.99

    Ball-Handler Possessions: 80

    Ball-Handler Value Added: 13.82 (No. 14)

    Roll Man Points per Possession: 1.4

    Roll Man Possessions: 73

    Roll Man Value Added: 23.51 (No. 1) 

    Clint Capela is a masterful roll man. 

    Not only does he possess the athleticism necessary to finish lobs with alley-oop slams, but his timing has improved dramatically. He understands the nuances of diving toward the tin, timing his steps so that he's in ideal positioning for a pass his guards can slip through the cracks of a defense. Plus, as Tim MacMahon detailed for ESPN.com, he's fully accepted his role: 

    "Capela is sort of the anti-Dwight [Howard]. He has no problem with an offensive role that consists primarily of running the floor, setting screens, rolling hard to the rim and rebounding. He understands the value of the vertical spacing he provides.

    "And you'll certainly never hear Capela complain about a lack of post touches.

    "'Nah, that's not his personality,' says Rockets assistant coach Roy Rogers, who works with Houston's big men. 'Clint's a team-first guy. He understands his role on the team, and he accepts his role. He's excited about his role.'"

    So far, that role has been rather valuable. But let's change course and address the elephant in the room: Eric Gordon over James Harden?

    The bearded guard has been an offensive juggernaut in 2017-18, to the point that he should be the runaway leader for MVP at this stage of the season. He's also been thoroughly mediocre in the pick-and-roll game, producing just 0.78 points per possession (48th percentile). Instead, his dominance has come in transition and isolation, among other scenarios. 

    Gordon hasn't been nearly as involved running the pick-and-roll show, but good things tend to happen for Houston when he calls for a screen and then doubles down by calling his own number. He's shown a knack for drawing whistles when he attacks—perhaps aided by a clean bill of health that allows him to turn the corner faster than ever—and never hesitates to knock down open triples when they present themselves. 

3. Toronto Raptors: DeMar DeRozan and Lucas Nogueira (39.73)

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    Ron Turenne/Getty Images

    Ball-Handler Points per Possession: 0.96

    Ball-Handler Possessions: 181

    Ball-Handler Value Added: 26.53 (No. 6)

    Roll Man Points per Possession: 1.63

    Roll Man Possessions: 24

    Roll Man Value Added: 13.2 (No. 4)

    DeMar DeRozan forces unorthodox pick-and-roll coverage, which works to both his benefit and that of his rolling counterpart.

    Defenders don't have to worry about three-point attempts, but they do have to converge and attempt to dissuade him from rising for a mid-range jumper. And while he's previously struggled to pick the right shots and could sometimes force the action, he's learned how to operate in tighter spaces and hit the roll man for easy buckets. 

    Lucas Nogueira is one of a few beneficiaries. The 7-footer from Brazil has showed nice touch around the hoop and routinely finishes play above the rim, allowing him to emerge as the team's leading roll man—regardless of whether he's operating with DeRozan or a backup guard. But he's not the only big adding value. 

    Jonas Valanciunas (8.99 value added as a roll man) ranks No. 8 in the league. Serge Ibaka (8.22) comes in at No. 10, giving Toronto three of the 10 leading players. Jakob Poeltl has even been a positive, and his 4.2 value added places him at No. 27 in the NBA-wide hierarchy. 

    Given all this success, it shouldn't be a surprise the Raptors as a whole are scoring 1.33 points per rolling possession, which leaves them in the top spot by a wide margin. Next up are the Miami Heat (1.24) and Houston Rockets (1.22), who just can't shoot quite as efficiently as their northern counterparts. 

2. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry and David West (44.03)

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Ball-Handler Points per Possession: 1.15

    Ball-Handler Possessions: 118

    Ball-Handler Value Added: 39.86 (No. 3)

    Roll Man Points per Possession1.45

    Roll Man Possessions: 11

    Roll Man Value Added: 4.17 (No. 28) 

    The Golden State Warriors are quite good at finding success with roll men, as their 1.21 points per possession leave them behind only the Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors. But they also rarely engage in that type of action, preferring to thrive off spot-up jumpers, score with their ball-handlers and find open cutters crashing toward the hoop. 

    A minuscule 3.7 percent of their possessions fall into this category, which leaves them behind the No. 29 Detroit Pistons (4.4 percent) by a rather large margin. In fact, the gap between the last-place Dubs and the Pistons is as large as the separation between the Pistons and the No. 26 Cleveland Cavaliers. 

    So while David West has done just fine as a roller, often stopping before the lane for a jumper, his plays after screening make up such a puny percentage of the Golden State offense. Accordingly, he provides just 9.5 percent of the total value added in this duo. 

    The rest comes from Stephen Curry. Surprise, surprise.

    The Warriors point guard remains an offensive juggernaut, torturing one defender after another with his pull-up treys and savvy finishes around the hoop. We've come to expect greatness from Curry beyond the arc, but it remains somewhat baffling that he can successfully complete nearly two-thirds of his attempts from within three feet. 

    The makeup of the Golden State offense, which selflessly shares the ball among so many star players, doesn't afford Curry the luxury of racking up nearly as many possessions as the other leading handlers. But he's still keeping pace with everyone in value added, finishing on par with the top two scorers despite using just over half as many relevant plays. 

1. Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker and Cody Zeller (45.51)

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Ball-Handler Points per Possession: 1.01

    Ball-Handler Possessions: 218

    Ball-Handler Value Added: 43.39 (No. 1)

    Roll Man Points per Possession: 1.16

    Roll Man Possessions: 25

    Roll Man Value Added: 2.12 (No. 47) 

    Cody Zeller has been a decent roll man—hardly a surprise from the 2016-17 third-place finisher in screen assists per game. But the Charlotte Hornets become a show-stopping pick-and-roll bunch because of their primary ball-handler. 

    Slowing Kemba Walker is just about impossible. 

    Play tight against him, and he'll use his remarkable quickness to dart by and earn an uncontested avenue toward the hoop. He's the master of exploding off the dribble and attacking an exposed hip, opening up a lane to the rim that can't be thwarted by the primary defender. But he's just as dangerous now when he's shooting off the bounce

    Walker almost never turns the ball over in the pick-and-roll game. He's quite comfortable playing into contact and earning a trip to the stripe for two freebies. Now, he's also become one of the NBA's deadliest pull-up shooters, routinely punishing defenders who make the fatal mistake of ducking under screens against him. That space they could afford him early in his career has all but disappeared. 

    On a per-possession basis, Walker sits in "only" the 88th percentile. But couple that with his extreme volume, and he rises to the top of the ball-handling pack while dragging Charlotte all the way to the forefront of these rankings. 

             

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball Reference, NBA.com, NBA Math or ESPN.com and are current entering Nov. 27.